Three corporate actions to further the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a deep inspiration and an important reminder to fight for structural equity, not tomorrow, but today.
I came into this world in 1969—less than a year after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As I grew and came into my own as a child of the 1970’s, I would listen to the stories and perspectives of my parents about the legacy of Dr. King, the weight of his words, the power and authority with which he preached about a future and world that was not simply fixed, but redeemed.
As a college student, I began to understand the perspectives my parents and so many others shared. Dr. King’s ability to be simultaneously conversant in matters of history, Bible scriptures, the issues of the poor, global economics, war, and federal legislation inspire me to this very day.
Like many, I was drawn to his “I Have a Dream Speech,” not for the soundbites that so many quote out of context, but because of the radical premise he introduced at the beginning (bold for emphasis):
“In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men—yes, Black men as well as white men—would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.
We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
Make no mistake—Dr. King understood the multi-tiered dynamics of the challenges Black communities were facing in America and realized that the ownership of solving those inequities was on the American government to address today, not tomorrow (and that was in 1963). I write this piece today as the Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Impact Officer at Momentive, and while companies cannot fix it all, there are tangible, actionable steps organizations (for-profit and not-for-profit) can take to progress King’s legacy today, not tomorrow.
Fight for the freedom to vote.
Momentive is passionate about building a more equitable society—including ensuring that everyone in the U.S. has a fair opportunity to vote. Our CEO, Zander Lurie, recently lent his support to the Freedom to Vote Alliance. We encourage you to sign the letter yourself and lend your support.
1. Use our institutional power to challenge issues of injustice at the root.
"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
— “Beyond Vietnam,” 1967
Society is infatuated with engaging symptoms, because not only is engaging symptoms easy, but it provides a near immediate sense of gratification. Organizations are not excluded in this phenomenon. For us, that gratification manifests in tax incentives and increased brand equity that drives revenue. However, surface actions that fail to achieve systemic impacts is its own theater. Dr. King’s quote above affirms for me that compassion and courage go hand in hand. The work of engaging elected officials to address unjust policies and legislation could be intimidating to a corporation’s leadership, but is necessary work that we all must take on to continue the commitments we made to racial justice in the summer of 2020.
2. Invest in programs that support structural, community-oriented transformation.
“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”
— “The Three Evils of Society,” 1967
Power is often the invisible letter in DEI work. Power is what differentiates between performative action and impact. Even more than it was in 1967, political and economic power today is held by interests that continue to show little regard for historically marginalized people. The solution to this is to empower those same groups with the resources that shift power dynamics. There are dozens of organizations, led by Black and Brown leaders, that need the human, social and financial capital that corporations can provide.
At Momentive, we empower users to support organizations that they are passionate about by taking surveys on the Contribute platform. The organizations on the platform consistently inspire me. Operation HOPE, which works to disrupt poverty for disenfranchised youths and adults, Greenlining, which fights for racial equity in health, economics, and energy, and Black Girl Ventures, which funds women of color founding companies, are three groups that consistently fill me with respect and appreciation.
3. Leverage organizational innovation for the benefit of people.
“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
— “Revolution of Values,” 1967
Dr. King was in many ways a futurist. He continuously imagined a world that he knew he would never see. In this spirit, nowhere in his rhetoric did he advocate against progress. However Dr. King did reject the prioritization of financial gain at the exploitative expense of human beings. Organizations connecting the dots between some of the products they develop and community uplift is critical in ensuring those on the margins aren’t left behind.